Taliban leaders have said they will hold a meeting to decide whether a Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician will be allowed to hold a planned protest march in their tribal stronghold against US drone strikes, according to the group’s spokesman.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, who denied a threat reported earlier by the Associated Press news agency that the group would kill Khan if he holds the demonstration planned for September, said the Pakistani Taliban consider Imran Khan to be an “infidel”.
He said Khan describes himself as a liberal, a term the Taliban associates with a lack of religious belief.
The Pakistani Taliban leadership council “will decide what to do a week before his [Khan’s] arrival and will announce it,” Ahsan told the AP by email.
“It’s sure and clear that we don’t have any sympathy with Imran Khan, neither do we need his sympathy, as he himself claims to be a liberal, and we see liberals as infidels.”
The AP reported on Wednesday that the Taliban would target Khan with suicide bombers if he held his march. The story followed an interview with Ahsan in a remote area of their militant stronghold of South Waziristan.
Khan has described himself as a liberal in various TV interviews, but he has also made clear that he is a practising Muslim – a distinction the Taliban seemed to ignore.
The 59-year-old Khan is perhaps the most famous person in Pakistan because he led the country’s cricket team to victory in the 1992 World Cup.
He was once known for his playboy lifestyle and marriage to British socialite Jemima Khan, but they divorced several years ago, and he has since become much more conservative and religious.
Khan founded the Pakistan Movement for Justice party about 15 years ago, but has only gained political momentum over the last year, riding a wave of opposition to drone strikes, the government’s alliance with the US and political corruption.
His detractors have criticised him for not being tough enough on the Pakistani Taliban, and have even nicknamed him “Taliban Khan” because of his views and his cozy ties with conservative Islamists who could help him attract right-wing voters in national elections likely to be held later this year or early next year.